heresy

So who is Dan Brown?

There was no way to film "The Lord of the Rings" without dealing with the author and producer Peter Jackson knew it.

Who was J.R.R. Tolkien? Luckily, the Oxford don left behind letters and essays about his Catholic faith and its impact on his heart, mind and soul.

"What we tried to do was honor the things that were important to Tolkien," said Jackson, after screening "The Two Towers" for the press. "We didn't want to make it a religious film. But he was very religious and some of the messages and some of the themes are based on his beliefs."

When artists turn a novel into a movie, they need to understand the author and it helps if he has, in the past, been candid about his beliefs and values. It helps to know something about the worldview that shaped the fiction.

So who is novelist Dan Brown? How will his beliefs affect "The Da Vinci Code" movie that will roll -- tsunami style -- into thousands of theaters next weekend?

It's hard to answer these questions, because Brown rarely agrees to serious interviews. Entertainment Weekly recently resorted to running a feature entitled "10 Things We Learned About Dan Brown From His Recent Trial."

Who is Dan Brown? He grew up in the Episcopal Church and was a regular at church camps. His mother was a church musician. His father taught mathematics at Phillips Exeter Academy, so Brown lived and studied there before going to Amherst College. During his college years, as often happens, Brown veered away from faith.

We know that he tried teaching English, failed as a songwriter and, early on, struggled as a writer. His wife, Blythe, is a painter who has played a major role in his work with her research skills and anger at traditional Catholicism. We know that Brown says he outlined "The Da Vinci Code" before he -- or his wife -- read the conspiracy theory classic "Holy Blood, Holy Grail." We know that Brown beat claims of plagiarism in that recent trial in London.

Interviewing himself at DanBrown.com, he argues that his book is a godsend for those open to debating religious questions and a challenge to anyone clinging to ancient doctrines. In other words, anyone who thinks his book is an attack on his or her faith is probably the kind of person whose faith deserves to be attacked.

"This book is not anti-anything. It's a novel," said Brown. "I wrote this story in an effort to explore certain aspects of Christian history that interest me. The vast majority of devout Christians understand this fact and consider 'The Da Vinci Code' an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate. Even so, a small but vocal group of individuals has proclaimed the story dangerous, heretical and anti-Christian."

The problem is the novel's opening statement: "All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents and secret rituals in this novel are accurate." After that, Brown proceeds to argue that Jesus was a charismatic man who married, had a child and created a goddess-friendly faith. The early church, however, twisted his teachings. Thus, as a brilliant skeptic says in the novel, "almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false."

Still, it's crucial to note that Brown is not opposed to Christianity, per se. In the online interview he stresses that he considers himself a Christian, but one who is seeking his own path of enlightenment. Brown sees himself as someone who is searching for a crossroads where science, sacred sex and all the world religions meet and work out their differences in the embrace of an all-embracing goddess, god or pantheon of gods to be negotiated at some point in the future.

"If you ask three people what it means to be Christian, you will get three different answers," he said. "Some feel being baptized is sufficient. Others feel you must accept the Bible as absolute historical fact. Still others require a belief that all those who do not accept Christ as their personal savior are doomed to hell. Faith is a continuum, and we each fall on that line where we may."

Who is Dan Brown? He is an evangelist proclaiming the message that there is no orthodoxy other than his liberating orthodoxy that says traditional Christianity is heresy. His goal is to liberate Jesus from all those picky ancient creeds.

Smells, bells & tension at Easter

In the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the last rites of Holy Week offer a procession of images both glorious and sobering -- a drama painted in sacrament, scripture, incense, chants and candlelight, fading into the darkness of a tomb.

It is a time for soul searching. That will certainly be the case this year for Father David L. Moyer of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont, a sanctuary for Anglican traditionalists on the Philadelphia mainline. He chose to go on retreat at a convent, rather than enduring the pain of watching these services from a pew.

"I am a liturgical nut and I am not the kind of person who can just watch," he said. "I just couldn't take that emotionally, right now. I'd be thinking, 'Now we need to do this' and 'Now it's time to do that.' It would be agonizing, not being at the altar."

Moyer cannot serve at the altar for a simple reason -- Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Jr., has forbidden him to do so. The bishop has "inhibited" Moyer from his sacred duties, and is proceeding toward deposing him as a priest, because the rector of Good Shepherd has repeatedly denied Bennison the right to preach and celebrate the Eucharist in the parish.

Why would a priest risk his career by locking out his bishop?

"Charles Bennison has removed himself from the church," said Moyer. "He has stepped outside the borders of the ancient Christian faith and of the Anglican tradition. ... I would say that he is in fact a heretic, a false teacher."

Both sides agree there is more to this standoff than power, $2 million in endowment money and the keys to a beautiful Gothic edifice. The bishop and his acolytes believe Moyer wants to split the diocese and the U.S. Episcopal Church. They note that Moyer leads the North American branch of Forward in Faith, a global network of Anglican conservatives.

Also, Moyer is a candidate to become an at-large bishop for traditionalists nationwide, following an upcoming election and consecration that would be held without the blessing of the American hierarchy. Moyer has strong ties to Third World archbishops and is scheduled to meet with several only days before a tense April 10-18 gathering of the Anglican primates in Canterbury.

Doctrine is at stake, too. Moyer responded to Bennison's March 1 "inhibition of ministry" letter with a letter urging the bishop to defuse the crisis by publicly affirming four ancient Christian doctrines. These were the uniqueness of Jesus as "the only way to obtaining eternal salvation," his "bodily Resurrection," the "supremacy of the Holy Scriptures as the inspired Word of God" and that "sexual intimacy and genital relations are only properly expressed in a monogamous, heterosexual marital union."

Bennison has not responded even though he is an outspoken, articulate advocate of changing church teachings on sex and salvation. During a 1997 forum, which was taped, the bishop was asked why he could embrace such sweeping doctrinal revisions. The church wrote the Bible, he responded. "Because we wrote the Bible, we can rewrite it."

Meanwhile, the diocesan standing committee has stated the obvious: no bishop wants to have the rector of a powerful parish publicly calling him a heretic.

"A diocese cannot function without mutual love and respect for duly instituted authority," stated the committee, in its report calling for disciplinary action against Moyer. "Since a Bishop's authority is sacramental, a parish must receive its Bishop to preside at the Holy Eucharist for it to be in communion with the Bishop. The parish must be in communion with the Bishop to be in communion with the diocese. The parish must be in communion with its diocese in order to be in communion with the Episcopal Church and, through it, the Anglican Communion at large."

But for Moyer, modern laws and ecclesiastical structures are not as important as the Bible and centuries of church tradition. Without a common core of doctrine, there can be no communion, he said. That is why he will fight on, even if that means sitting in a pew this Easter.

"I believe that souls are at risk. I really do believe that," he said. "We cannot stand by and watch people being led into hell."